Indie rock of the country-ish persuasion has been blessed lately with these women of tremendous, distinctive voice – Neko Case, Tift Merritt, Jesse Sykes, and Melissa Swingle, formerly of Bloodshot’s Trailer Bride. I mention this because Swingle is now fronting a new project, The Moaners, on that new vanguard for record labels, Yep Roc (not since Sub Pop or Dischord have I been willing to pick up anything on a label just because everything they put out has been so consistently non-sucky).
So you have a voice given to you by the angels, that’s an instrument in and of itself, and what do you do? Because your instrument is itself so distinctive that it’s impossible for it to not take front and center of any musical project – not only impossible, but pointless for it to be any other way. Swingle’s voice was the key attraction in Trailer Bride, at least for me, its Nico-on-’ludes (yeah, that image scares me too), other-worldly quality guiding you through Trailer Bride’s Flannery-O’connor-meets-Starweather-and-Fugate, bleak black (how much more black could it be? none, none more black) lyrics.
So now Swingle’s put together the Moaners, along with Laura King (late of Grand National) on drums (and please don’t think “White Stripes,” it’s not like Jack white has any kind of patent on a band with only two people in it). The duo thing is hard to pull off and almost no one does it well, or makes it sound interesting. But Swingle has that voice and you could build an empire around it, you really could. In fact, the lack of adornment is kind of like wearing one gorgeous piece of jewelry with a simple black dress: you don’t need anything else. Their debut release, Dark Snack, proves this theory.
Surprisingly (and delightfully), the Moaners rock. Not as hard as you’d like them to (my disappointment is that they don’t rock harder than they do here, it’s almost too tuneful in some spots, if you can say that for a duo on drums, samples, loops and a down-tuned guitar). You want this record to shred your eardrums and it comes oh so very very very close… but you come away unscathed. And sad, almost, that they didn’t rip you to pieces. It will be interesting to see how the live version of the Moaners manifests itself, if the amps go to 11 (I have now reached the rock writer union limit of no more than two “Spinal Tap” references per review, don’t worry, this is it, I promise) or if they maintain this lower-key groove as presented on the album.
The songs are short and to the point – most numbers near the 3 minute mark – and again, are downright poppy for what they’re made of. There’s even some Cobain-esque guitar feedback and tones throughout that, surprisingly, works. Standout tracks include “Heart Attack,” “Oh Christy,” and the instrumental “Chasing the Moon” that closes the album (and which deserves an orchestra in the background, I swear). Dark Snack is crunchy, it’s solid, and ultimately, it’s as satisfying as the Hostess cupcake that adorns the cd label.